Updates from Letty – April 29, 2022

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

We’re set to adopt the budget and capital improvements program next week, and it is eerily calm (I hope this doesn’t jinx it). Typically the weekend before the final budget vote, there is still much work and negotiation underway, sometimes with multiple options of budget ordinances developed right up until Monday night. While this budget year has been one of the most uncertain (due to factors external to Falls Church) – I am hopeful that the final markup we hashed out this week balances fiscal responsibility and addresses the top community needs – including dropping the tax rate another 0.5 penny to 9 cents total, significantly expanding the tax relief program, fully funding the schools’ requested budget increase of 6.3%, offering competitive compensation to our employees, piloting a refugee housing assistance program, and more. Read on for more details and the remaining wildcards we’re watching.

You can still submit your public comment to us via email or by speaking at our meeting on Monday night. (Speaking of hearing from you – we had great turnout at our inaugural City Council office hours this week, so look for that to be a recurring opportunity to share your thoughts with us informally.)

Finally – a few important takeaways for you this weekend:

(1) We proclaimed Falls Church to be a Stroke Smart city this week. Stroke is the #1 cause of long term disability in the US and afflicts 1 in 6 people. The more who become educated to spot the signs of stroke and immediately calls 911, the more people we can help.

(2) With spring weather on tap, Sunday will be a great day to take the self-guided Women’s History Walk from 11-2 – this is a great opportunity to learn about the women who built this community, enjoy time together outside, get some exercise.

(3) Today is the last day to submit your real estate assessment appeals.

Hope to see you on Sunday.


What Happened This Week:

(1) FY23 Budget – Markup

Our “markup” meeting is the final work session where we seek to find consensus with adds/subtracts to the budget based on the past month’s worth of discussion and community input. Here are highlights of what you can likely expect to be in the final budget we adopt next Monday night, many of which reflect priorities we’ve heard from you:

  • No Commercial & Industrial Tax (this new tax was originally proposed by the City Manager to be levied on commercial properties, we’re one of the few remaining jurisdictions that does not levy this tax on our businesses)
  • 9 cents real estate property tax decrease to $1.23, one of the largest decreases ever and likely one of the largest in the region
  • Even with the large tax rate decrease, we realize that increased residential assessments leading to larger tax bills (impact will be about +$500 for the median home valued at $880K) will still be a burden to many. As such, we’re significantly expanding the tax relief program for our most vulnerable, low income seniors and disabled persons
  • Reduces car tax rate from $5.00 to $4.30 per $100 of assessed value to blunt the impact of the anomalous high car tax values
  • Fully funds schools’ budget request with an increase of 6.3%
  • Competitive increase in compensation for employees and boosts city-wide minimum wage to $15/hour
  • Increases sidewalk and pavement maintenance and repair budget
  • Sustains annual funding for affordable housing and neighborhood traffic calming
  • Adds two police officers – a SRO and a patrol officer focused on traffic safety
  • Adds six permits review and building safety officials for new development projects
  • Funds a pilot refugee housing assistance program in partnership with Welcoming Falls Church

As with every budget, there are still more unfunded needs I wish we could address – including:

  • Automated speed and red light enforcement – pending a consultant study of school zones where speed cameras are allowed, I plan to keep advocating for implementation at mid year
  • Bike infrastructure – pending at VT study and refresh of our bike master plan, I hope we will fund an official bike route to the secondary school campus and protected bike lanes elsewhere
  • Climate change – while this budget and CIP includes significant funding for stormwater infrastructure projects and a broad, strategic climate plan for the city, we need to be poised to take action with real dollars on the recommendations from that climate plan in the next budget cycle
  • Sidewalk obstruction/accessibility issues

Wildcards – and while we wish we will be done with budget next Monday, there is a chance we’ll have to revisit the budget due to several wildcards:

  • Richmond still has not adopted a state budget. We have an exposure of up to $1.8M in the form of the grocery tax built into the proposed budget. If the grocery tax is eliminated with no support for localities, we’ll have to find $1.8M. We have left a small contingency in the budget, but it won’t be enough.
  • Continued high inflation, putting more pressure on materials, project costs, and salaries and/or recession

What’s Coming Up:

Sunday, May 1, 2022 (11 am – 2 pm) – Women’s History Walk

Monday, May 2, 2022 – City Council Meeting (budget adoption)*

Monday, May 16, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings